I had a useful reminder this week of what matters in luxury – is it better to spend $$$ and go somewhere everyone has heard of, or go off the beaten track and pick somewhere in The Good Pub Guide?! Definitely the latter on this occasion, although I certainly am not knocking the 5 star hotel scene that I also enjoy immensely. We’ve been fortunate to stay and dine at some amazing places in recent years – and I wouldn’t change that. The New Forest is full of fancy hotels, restaurants, pubs, etc. – we are spoilt for choice and having it on our doorstep is great. Want a nice lunch? We go to the Chewton Glen – they spoil us and it is a good value set menu every day of the week in lovely surroundings. Want a nice supper with colleagues? Limewood, decadent but the food does not break the bank. However neither of these places are the type for either a lunch at the end of a cycle or a weekend away with parents and this is what we needed this week. For the weekend away, my in-laws selected The Three Lions in Stuckton – a restaurant with rooms. For a weekday lunch we made a spur of the moment choice to eat in the courtyard at The Pig in Brockenhurst. A week ago I would have told you hands down that the Pig would have one on every count… how much I have learnt! The Three Lions This is the far side of the New Forest near to Fordingbridge. It sells itself as a restaurant with rooms and has many accolades that you can see on its website or over the door when you arrive. The food is something else – imagine you are at one of those high end places I mentioned above, but then imagine the food in old style pub surroundings – even more surprising. We really enjoyed our supper: starters, mains and puddings – all were cooked magnificently and there was a good choice. There was also, I am told, a very good wine list – but I wasn’t involved in the choosing. They did have a good choice of half bottles of wine which I always like as if you only want white with the starter there is no need to get a full bottle, so nice that there is choice for the demi. We also stayed here: the rooms are nice, clean and basic and they open onto large gardens that are a complete sun-trap with plenty of garden furniture and space to get away from other guests. You would not pick this place for the rooms, but that is just my point. They are completely adequate and probably leave you even more surprised by what the kitchen is creating. The Pig Went to a wedding here years back when it was privately owned Whitley Ridge, and have purposefully avoided returning since it has been owned by a ‘chain’. Finally decided to go back having seen just how much press the place is getting and also seeing that they now serve a more relaxed lunch in a courtyard, from the stone oven. We turned up very casual and with no booking, but the service was all very friendly and it was clear that most of the others eating there were doing the same as us. The courtyard is a clever idea. Service was a tad slow, but when we were noticed it was very friendly and attentive and things sped up. The food was good and tasty and didn’t take forever to come either – a small menu, but some quirky pizzas and starters and some simple ice cream sundaes. What I did not like was that wine by the glass was not on the drinks menu. That’s fine – I ordered a glass of house wine from the waitress, it certainly wasn’t anything more special than house wine on tasting. Anyhow, didn’t think anything of it until the bill came and a glass of house wine was £10. Call me a cynic but that is a very sneaky way of selling wine! What did we learn? I learnt that I will always love fancy 5 star boutique hotels but that they need picking carefully and that they need to be special. Against my expectations I enjoyed the friendly experience at the Three Lions far more than The Pig! As to what is luxury – well, staying at a place that doesn’t realise just how good it is, that was such a rarity that it was a luxury! Don’t believe all that you read in the newspapers! There is big competition in the New Forest for custom and the food either needs to be the standard of somewhere like The Three Lions, or the hotel needs to be one of the big boys where the premium has been earnt already. I’ll let you guess where I’ll be going back to (aside from Chewton Glen!).
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